Skip to content

The Magic Continues at DEC’s Second Infant/Toddler Conference

Over 200 early childhood educators, coaches, consultants, and advocates gathered on June 7 and 8 for San Francisco’s second infant/toddler conference, hosted by DEC and WestEd. The event was an opportunity for San Francisco’s infant/toddler educators to learn together, eat together, and play together—the Friday night social event, Under the Sea, was filled with fun, laughter, and feisty-yet-friendly competition!

This year’s conference theme was Beacons of Safety, building on the concepts and conversations that began at last year’s conference. Attendees continued their exploration of attachment theory and the critical role that emotional security plays in children’s well-being, both during the infant/toddler years and throughout life. A key focus was creating a felt sense of safety for children and families.

The story of relationships in the context of early childhood programs is the story of three relational partners: the child, the educator, and the family. Each of the conference plenary sessions focused on one of these relational partners and the breakout sessions looked at some of the dynamics that take place between relational partners.

The opening plenary, Learning, began with remarks by DEC Director Ingrid Mezquita and a framing of the conference vision and values. The session focused on the needs of the child as the central relational partner. Infants and toddlers need to know that they matter. That they are enough. That they are seen, known, and heard.

The theory plenary, Listening, focused on the educator and invited participants to listen to the signals that come from within their bodies and minds. We looked to the polyvagal theory for insights into what happens when our nervous systems detect danger and, as a result, our ability to offer and receive cues of emotional security is compromised. A key concept was the importance of learning to discern between our “befores” (what we bring in from previous relationship experiences) and our “nows” (what belongs in the current interaction). Attendees explored strategies for helping themselves and children maintain—or return to—a place of emotion regulation, or the safe and social state. 

The closing plenary, Loving, was delivered by DEC’s Jennifer Delos Reyes. This last session of the 2024 conference focused on the family and asked the question: “What would it look like if we centered children’s attachment needs in our implementation of relational family engagement?” Meenoo Yashar, Deputy Director of DEC’s Early Learning division, gave closing remarks that were both moving and inspirational, inviting attendees to acknowledge the inherent worth in each of us.

A very special element of the 2024 conference was music performed by Jackie Gage and Diana Gameros, who shared original songs that they had written as part of Carnegie Hall’s Lullaby Project. Their beautiful and deeply touching music was a powerful example of helping both families and children feel seen, known, and heard. 

Providing emotional security across generations is life-changing, life-saving work.